Europeans won’t be amused by alleged Goldman scam

April 16, 2010

Europeans won’t be amused by the alleged Goldman Sachs scam. ABN Amro, and therefore ultimately Royal Bank of Scotland, ended up losing $841 million in the allegedly fraudulent collateralised debt obligation investment concocted by the investment bank. Meanwhile, IKB, the bust German bank, lost nearly $150 million.

These European banks were some of the biggest financial mugs in the last years of the credit bubble. But the allegations levelled by the Securities and Exchange Commission don’t concern the folly of the buyers and insurers of subprime mortgage investments. Goldman is accused of misleading investors. The UK and German states, which bailed the banks out, will be livid if the case is proved. Goldman denies the charges.

The UK government could be the biggest loser if the allegations turn out to be true. After all, it had to rescue RBS only two months after the Scottish bank paid Goldman $841 million to unwind a guarantee it inherited when it acquired part of ABN Amro, the Dutch bank, according to the SEC. Of course, the hole at RBS was much bigger than that. Still, there must be a risk that the issue could become a political football given that the UK is in the midst of a tight election campaign in which banker-bashing is a popular activity among all the main parties.

The Germans won’t be happy either if the SEC’s charges are proved. Again, IKB’s problems ran deeper than its purchase of the investment marketed by Goldman. But it was only months later, in the summer of 2007, that the bank was rescued at huge cost to the German taxpayer.

Many European politicians are already suspicious about Goldman after revelations that it perfectly legally helped Greece hide the true extent of its debts just before it joined the euro. These new allegations, concerning activity that may have directly hurt the pockets of two of the region’s biggest and most powerful governments, could scarcely have come at a worse time.

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Not sure I agree with the logic. It’s much easier for a government to explain bank bail-outs as “a victim of a fraud” rather than “they were stupid”. Most victims of crime would like to believe the government will help. So I’d argue it helps the UK and German governments.

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